Japanese minister leaves over nuclear gaffe
Tokyo - Japan's new trade minister resigned on Saturday over a remark seen as insensitive to nuclear evacuees, dealing a blow to a government that took office just eight days ago in the hopes it could better tackle the daunting tsunami recovery.
"A series of my remarks caused serious distrust among the people, especially the people of Fukushima," Yoshio Hachiro said at a late-night news conference. "I seriously reflected on my remarks, and I made the decision to step down."
He said he informed Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of his decision during an evening meeting.
Noda, who took office and installed a new Cabinet on September 2, accepted it after spending most of the day visiting Miyagi and Iwate prefectures, hard-hit by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Noda, Hachiro and other government ministers were visiting the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Thursday when Hachiro made his verbal gaffe.
He called the desolate evacuation zone around the plant "a town of death" and later told reporters he just meant to convey the seriousness of the situation and his commitment to decontaminate it so residents can return.
Sweating heavily under intense questioning by reporters, Hachiro said the remarks "rubbed the feelings of Fukushima people the wrong way" but that he did not intend to be hurtful.
He explained that his words were his honest impression of the area around the plant.
"You can't find a place like that anywhere else but there," Hachiro said. "I couldn't think of any other word but that to describe my feeling."
Hachiro, 63, was less forthcoming about a second comment that also was criticised.
According to local news reports, he joked with journalists that radiation he acquired on his clothing during his visit to Fukushima might be contagious.
"It was something I said off-the-record, and I don't want to talk about it any more," he said. The ministers wore protective bodysuits like those of the workers they met at the plant during their visit.
People affected by the disasters, political opponents and even members of the ruling Democrats had strongly criticised his remark.